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'Needle-free COVID vaccine may protect better, researchers say'

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A new inhaled COVID-19 vaccine created in Canada may protect better than injections, researchers say.

A new inhaled COVID-19 vaccine created in Canada may protect better than injections, researchers say.

McMaster University

Could a “needle-free” COVID-19 vaccine protect against the virus better than traditional injections?

A new inhaled COVID-19 vaccine created in Canada is “much more effective” at initiating the body’s “protective” immune response than injections, according to researchers at McMaster University in Ontario. This is based on published preclinical trial results, which paved the way for the vaccine to be studied in people.

With the first phase of human studies underway, researchers have already received more than $8 million in funding to support a larger Phase 2 study involving up to 500 people in the coming months, the university announced in a press release on Feb. January. Funding comes from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

Given the ability of COVID-19 to evolve, the researchers say their vaccine has the potential to protect against micron and other variants that arise.

“The current vaccination strategy for COVID-19 has us constantly chasing the virus, and of course we just can’t keep up,” Dr. Matthew Miller, who is helping to lead the studies and is a professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, said in a statement.

“Our team developed a vaccine strategy aimed at circumventing this cycle and the need to constantly update these vaccines, targeting parts of the virus that are resistant to mutation and inducing strong immunity at the site where the infection actually occurs,” added Miller.

To date, there is no authorized alternative to COVID-19 vaccines involving injections in the US. Nearly 70% of the population has been vaccinated with two doses and approximately 15% of the population has received the last updated booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Canadian researchers hope their needle-free, “pain-free” vaccine will encourage people to get vaccinated, the statement said.

How does the inhaled COVID vaccine work?

Nebulizer Matt Miller Labs-00948_jpg.jpg
Inhaled COVID-19 being demonstrated, according to McMaster University. Georgia Kirkos McMaster University

The inhaled COVID vaccine is administered through a nebulizer, a device that turns liquid into an inhalable mist, according to McMaster University. Its design is based on decades of university research into an inhaled tuberculosis vaccine.

“The (COVID-19) vaccine starts out in liquid form and is loaded into a device that turns it into an aerosolized mist,” Miller explained in a press release in November. “The person being vaccinated simply breathes in this mist and it settles in their lungs.”

This method may be better at protecting against COVID-19 than the injections available for COVID-19 because it directly targets the lungs and upper respiratory system, where “viruses first enter the body,” according to the researchers.

Their preclinical trials published in the journal Cell in February demonstrated this. The work involved studying the effect of the vaccine in mice and revealed that the vaccine can effectively induce immunity against current and future variants of COVID-19.

“We knew COVID would change,” said Dr. Brian Lichty, who is also involved in developing the vaccine, in a November statement. “We developed our vaccine to anticipate these changes, including parts of the virus that won’t change and parts that are conserved among other coronaviruses, so that it might give some level of protection against possible future pandemic coronaviruses that don’t even exist in the human population yet.”

Studies of inhaled vaccines in people

Now, as a result of preclinical trials, the inhaled vaccine is being studied in 30 people who previously received at least two doses of the mRNA vaccine, according to the university. The purpose of this Phase 1 study is to evaluate vaccine safety and dosages.

There is no definite time when Phase 1 testing will end, university spokeswoman Michelle Donovan told the McClatchy News Jan. 20.

When finished, Phase 2 will begin not long after and over the next few months, according to the release. The aim of the second phase is to further evaluate the vaccine’s safety and induced immune response.

The 500 people included in Phase 2 will have already received at least three doses of the mRNA vaccine, the statement said. Also, some people may be older and may have different health conditions, and some have already been infected with COVID-19.

“If we can show that the new inhaled vaccine is safe and effective, as we anticipate, the impact will be significant for human health, medical costs and improved quality of life,” Dr. Fiona Smaill, who is leading the trials with Miller and other colleagues and is a professor of pathology and molecular medicine, said in a statement.

Julia Marnin's profile picture

Julia Marnin is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter who covers the Southeast and Northeast while living in New York. She is an alumnus of The College of New Jersey and joined McClatchy in 2021. Previously, she has written for Newsweek, Modern Luxury, Gannett, and more.

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